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Avenger Assembled

January 2014 Vignette: Camelot City

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January 6, 2014

It's a typical snowy day in Freedom City, Epiphany for those who celebrate the holiday, and everyone is just starting to wind down from Christmas. When suddenly something happens, and it's still Epiphany 2014 - but now things are different.

Freedom City is New Camelot City, perhaps the greatest city in the World Empire that stretches from Old Camelot in Britannia to distant Serica far across the Greater Ocean. New Camelot City is this year playing host to King Arthur Constantine XVI, who with his wife Queen Morgan rotates between the great cities of the World Empire 'sits at the Round Table of the World' every year so as to prevent rebellion - and as well it should! From the days of The Blue-Gold Knight, New Camelot City's first and doughtiest champion, fantastic men, women, and creatures stranger than both have walked the streets of this city of wonders, sworn to defend it against the demons and other beasts banished to the great Wharton Forest that stretches for many leagues beyond. This should be a good day, a happy day; the King and Queen have newly arrived and settled into their palace in the center of the great walled city, and the weather is warm enough that the crops may not freeze this winter at all (especially with the help of Camelot's great mystics and builders) - but rumors swirl through the city this day. Rumors of strangely changed champions who whisper that this world is a lie; that Camelot itself is a lie abound - the arrival of the royal court to New Camelot City has exposed corruption close to those that have ruled this land for 1500 years on the Christian calendar. Perhaps this will indeed be Camelot's last day, despite the best efforts of the League of Camelot to guard King and Realm. Unless they become its greatest enemies.

Yes, it's Fantasy Freedom, with a twist! For January 6, 2014, Freedom City will be reflected in a fantasy mirror, as a city in a world of Arthurian myth and legend, where mighty knights and brave wizards battle foul fiends and twisted mystics in an effort to bring truth and justice to a lawless land. Your hero is cast as a fantasy version of himself or herself, inspired by some of our competitor roleplaying games (you know the ones, with dragons in their underground fortresses) as well as Fantasy Freedom on page 107 of Worlds of Freedom.  This version of Fantasy Freedom is closer to Thomas Malory's than Marion Zimmer Bradley's, a land with a really and truly holy Church that fights demons that just might be hanging around to try and steal your soul, and where some medieval ideas are closer to truth than others.

 

Please post your January vignettes before January 30th so that you can get full credit.

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Harrier 

Demon Knight

 

Caradoc knelt in prayer among the League of Camelot and felt the sin burning bright in his heart of steel, a dark, corrupting flame that whispered black temptation in his mind. This is not your place. This is not your name. This is not your life. This world is false. This is a false life. You know what is true. CARNAGE. A thousand unspeakable horrors swam beneath the closed eyes of the battle-scarred knight, horrors that would have made him weep if the roots of his tears had not been pulled from his body so many years ago. He was alone in a crowded room, the others of the League assembled by the Queen as her personal guard keeping a safe distance on wooden pew or stone floor as they gingerly avoided the touch of the demon-tainted man. No - the monster of steel and demonic agony that wore a man's flesh.  Deep in his soul, deeper than gods or mortals or spells could go, Caradoc knew what he was. 

 

The demons had come in the night and dragged him to the deepest forges of Hell, subjecting him to cruel and blasphemous tortures as he begged for mercy, begged for mercy even as his own screams blended with the cries of uncounted millions. Until finally he stopped screaming as his mouth and flesh were torn apart, and his very soul torn out and replaced with a burning engine of demonic hate and unspeakable rage. The thing that had risen from the demon-wizard Steelgrave's table that night was no man, but a nightmare of steel and demonic flesh to hunt and harry at those that loved in the world above. How many had died beneath the flaming ebon blade of the Demon Knight? How many had done worse than die? There had been so many like him dragged away, some by his own power, so many who died screaming only to rise as something worse than dead at the commands of Hell itself. 

 

There has been other worlds like this one once; ages of Creation with their own heroes, own knights, own gods; all now lost thanks to the King of Hell that sought to pull all of Creation down into the Pit. When the paladins of the League had dragged him down with golden chains and brought his soul back to his body by searing bright magic, he had expected to die - how many of their champions had died writhing in agony impaled around his burning blade? How many of their families had been ground beneath his heel in the long, bloody war with the armies of Hell? The man he had once been, a worm raised amid the hellgods of his native sphere, one long since corrupted and destroyed by its own Dark Lord, would have spared no champion of Hell to live, just as the Lord had allowed no fell witch to do so. But instead those he had fully expected to be his holy destroyers had become his greatest friends. They had blessed him and forgiven his sins, and given him a place among their ranks as a defender of the Realm - albeit one disguised by alchemical sorcery as simply another knight. The population could not bear the Demon Knight walking the streets as one of their own again. The deception had troubled him once, and perhaps did still in that knightly part of him that had been forged nearly by accident by the demons who had stolen him away, but he had seen too many sunrises among cheering crowds and happy families to regret the choice he had made for long. 

 

They had been kneeling since sunrise beneath the smell of incense and cedars, when the Queen had called them to the Hall to brief them against a new and terrifying enemy, but so long in submission was nothing compared to one who practiced self-mortification. How can I turn against this world that has given me so much? He thought of a home, and bed designed to hold the ebon iron frame that lay beneath his scarred brown skin, and hot food whenever he wanted it. And Angelina, the Camelot Angel, the impossibly beautiful woman who he just happened to know was a clockwork machine controlled by sympathetic alchemy made by the woman he loved. Their courtship had so amused their mutual friends; the common knight and the very angel made flesh - how might they have felt if they had known the true story of what they were. She thinks herself a hunchback, but is more beautiful than Queen Morgan when she is in my arms. How could he, and he alone, turn against this place when it had given him all that he was? 

 

He listened to Queen Morgan tell them of the infernalists who had penetrated the ranks of even of the heroes of Camelot City, of those who even now might well be marching on Camelot Hall, and knew deep in his soul that the voices that told him to reject this world must be the demons that had ripped out his soul so very long ago and replaced it with cold, unthinking steel forged from the iron of Hell itself. I cannot listen. I cannot listen. But that was the problem, you see, with being a monster. The voices were never silent. 

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Cho Paige Lee

Corliss the Cursed

 

Inside the darkened room, the chained demon stirred, in vain. These blessed chains made sure that the creature could not break free by power alone. Maybe a stronger, more potent demon could but not that simplistic beast. Nothing more than a flunkie, a warrior demon trapped inside a circle and bound by chains. The figured in front of it walked around the room, dragging it’s massive sword along the floor, causing sparks to fly. “So, what’s it going to be?†she ask. “Are you going to answer or do I have to cut off your head like the last demon?â€


“AS IF I WOULD ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS, CAMBION!†roared the beast, as if chuckled. Shaking her head, Corliss lifted the sword like it was nothing and rested it on her shoulders. That thing was massive, easily almost the length of a grown man and to her it weighed nothing. “Beside, what are you going to do? Most of your powers are useless on me, as given by the King of Hell himself, they have no power over demons. Try to roast me with hellfire and I will laugh!â€


Once more, the ugly creature chuckled. However, the creature found itself started as the massive blade rested on it’s throat. “Give me a name, NOW!†she herself roared out as her eyes glowed and markings appeared on her flesh, hellfire flaring around her. Even her appearance began to distort. “Now that’s more like it, wench. Very well then; I don’t know the one you are looking for but I do know someone you might.†The creature laughed. “How long are you going to keep this foolish battle? You belong to us. You are one of us. Do not be as foolish as to pretend you are some squire or even some knight of the kingdom in-making. You will always be one of us, mooncalf.â€


Leaving behind her current hideout (and the remains of the demon), the young warrior would-be demon slayer continued. carrying nothing but her armor and sword. She wouldn’t rest until she found that specific demon. The words of the last demon echoed in her head, once more. How she was one of them. And, indeed, in a way she was. Her father has made an accursed pact, selling his soul for power. Unfortunately, that was the least he had done. The demon wanted a vessel, a champion for his master into this world so her father sold not only his soul but also his unborn child. However, things had not gone has planned for the demons. The girl turned out to still be human in mind and soul. No matter how cursed the blood in her vein, it could not extinguish things such as valor or compassion. And so was born yet another defender of New Camelot.


The door found itself ripped from it’s hinge as Corliss walked into the demon’s lair, a dark place where it hid from the light of the sun and god’s wrath. “Well, you found me.†said the creature, sipping what she was hoping was merely wine. “I suppose you are saving ME the trouble of finding YOU.â€


“Enough talk, fiend. I wish to know which demon my father has made a pact with and you will tell me or I will smite you.†proclaimed Corliss, to which the creature only smiled. “You are thick-headed, child. Do you not see how futile your battle is? Why do you fight us so? You could be a champion for us and have anything you desire. Well that is assuming you please our master. Still, I have to ask you, what do these petty, foolish mortals have to offer you that we can’t?â€

 

“I would rather serve in heaven than rule in hell for I am not a monster like you.†Drawing forth her blade, she was going to defend her place on earth as a human and as a defender of the just at any cost. For it was what she believed her place in the universe to be.

Edited by RobRX

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Rene DeSaens

 

The Dream

 

The knight of many colours, they called him. Flamboyant cloths draped his banner and person, elegant and bright. He had fought in wars, battled demons, and rested the undead. But most knew him for his colours.

 

He was too old to be a Knight, he grumbled entering New Camelot City on horseback. It had been years since he donned armour. And he could barely lift a sword now. Truth was, he had never been a great knight. At least in the classical sense. And now, he was too old to be one at all, by his estimation.

 

“Sir Rene DeSaens!†Called the crier as he entered the castle, cold from winter air. It was better than the horseback ride that had lead him there. And the castle was rich, splendid, and warm to look at. With luck, he could soon find the real warmth of a fire, and rest his feet. He needed to rest.

 

The dark skinned Master Zenon attracted a few looks. Younger than his master, but grey haired still, with a beaming smile and neat, less radiant clothes. Whispers were everywhere, of course, that was the nature of a Castle. A breeding ground for gossip and rumour, well fed by the relative idleness of the noble and wealthy.

 

Rene grumbled into his quarters and gently lowered himself into an old oak chair, feeling the relief of sitting down on plumped cushions. Master Zenon seemed to carry on, oblivious, unpacking their luggage and armours with good spirit and boundless energy.

 

Rene awoke hours later, having nodded off. He tried to feign it off, but his manservant was to astute to his ways to fall for it.

 

“Hmph. I was resting my eyes, only for moments. Unlike you, I need to sleep…†he complained.

 

Master Zenon, of course, did not sleep. On account of being dead.

 

That hadn’t stopped him moving, of course.

 

Sir DeSaens was further jolted to wakefulness by a crisp penetrating knock on the door. There was little delay, only enough to stave off robust complaints of rudeness, before a man entered.

 

Young, muscular, with golden gleaming hair, and noble robes. A mid length, well fashioned sword at one side and an arrogant jaw. Lord Gently.

 

“Lord DeSaens†he said, giving a filthy look at Rene and a filthier one at Master Zenon.

 

“I did not expect you to sully this noble castle, and noble land, with your presence†he said haughtily. “We have no time for your sordid ways. Beelzebub and Mammon take you. And I would send you to them all the sooner†he said, barely containing the urge to spit at Rene’s feet.

 

“By the grace of God, know that you are not welcome. Whatever tales are spun of your gallant past, they are mirrored and worse by tales of your Ungodly ways†he finished.

 

Rene nodded lazily, his hearing apparently hard, his stupor apparently deep, although the appearances were deceptive. Despite his years, the word wounded him, reminded him of the lies and fear he had endured many times over.

 

“Gods blessings be upon you to, my son†replied Rene, a smile on his lips that could not help but mock.

 

The tales were of course true. Sir DeSaens had lain with men, and loved them. Such love was hidden and dared not speak its name.

This time, Sir Gently did indeed spit, unable to contain himself.

 

“I don’t need your prayers, Sir. You need mine!†he said, clasping his hands together firmly.

 

“Prayers?†replied Rene, shaking his head. “Pray all you wish, Sir. But a million hands in prayer will not equal two set to work. Do you think it was Prayer that slew the Dragon of Avignon? That burned the Necromancer of Paris? No, it was I! My sword!†he said, standing up straight. He raised his hand and focussed his eyes. A sword of pure flame gushed from his hand, wielded as a livid whip, cutting through the air in front of his accuser.

 

“The Devil’s work, say some, as if they knew. Non! Ignorance is no defence, Sir! You think your ignorance will shield you from my fire? Non! It is knowledge, wisdom, wit, that is harder and sharper than shield or sword. And I have it, Sir! And you…you do not!†he roared, alive now, his fiery blade, cutting the air besides Sir Gently’s beard.

 

The young knight, aghast, turned heel and left, encouraged by the boot of Master Zenon that engaged his rear end with surprising force. Sir Gently sprawled onto the floor outside Sir DeSaens chambers, and, grabbing what tattered remains of his dignity survived, scampered off to distant stones of the Castle.

Rene sat down, his fire evaporating, and fatigue overcoming him.

 

“I have no time for such fools at my age, Henri, if ever I did†he sighed. “I leave that for the Gods. Non, now is the time for more serious matters. I dream such dreams, my friend…I dreamed I was in a city of steel, tall beyond any towers, with horseless carts powered by fire and smoke. Wonders of wheel and cog and lightning, everywhere in ze hands of hordes of people, swarming like ants. A place of wonder and coldness, liberty and loss†he said, clutching his head.

 

“You know the dreamlands, my friend. I roam those plains with you. Reality is not real. And yet, whilst I dream this dream, a dream like no other, I recognised this strange city of my dreams. It was here, Henri, here by this castle, by these streets. And this I wonder, was it this world dreaming of my City of steel, or, as it felt, that the City of steel was dreaming this one!â€

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Wave-Eye

The Travails of the Triton

1.

The old Fishman lived in a sea-side cave

Crouched at Camelot's pure new city

From the heights of sunk' Atlantis, silent

He saw the world change its face, harsh to soft

Ceaseless war he fought, cruel was his red heart

But now Arthur reigned, God's Peace on Earth dwelt

Camelot rose amid wreck of empires

And the Fishman's work was ended, grace given

The thing that wrought so much death, reddened seas

Lay at his door, watched the grey tide flow.

2.

A cold wind shook at New Year's coming

Though King and Queen burnt their hearth that day

From New Camelot's halls, diamond of the realm

Where gathered many from Cathay to France

All the world praised the knights who dwelt there

Thunder-Lance, John Mercury, dark Siren

And more, but swords cannot stay tongues

Save unlawfully, and there rumors spread

Of a Lie that was their World many spoke

And some gave ear, but not grim old Fishman

3.

He who had seen fall Jericho

Broke lances against Prester John

Served the heathen kings of land and sea

Knew well truth when he saw, felt it, heard

And smelt it for ten-thousand years or more.

4.

"But", thought old Fishman, the seagulls crying

And all he knew so close and solid, still,

"What if they speak some truth we cannot see?"

5.

His thoughts were dashed, faint reverie lost,

At the roar of the Shore Knight's trumpet.

The brassy din echoed from cliff to cliff

Heralding and calling all there to arms

To greet the sea-coast's unfailing wardens.

High Gaheris came first, his mount spraying sand

Breasted foam-bearing waves and stood dripping

Smiling proudly at his unlovely friend

He and Agravain, Orkeny's Brothers

Who stood sentinels over Camelot

And knew what evil lurked in the deep.

Twenty lances followed them, all strong folk

And many more on foot with axe and shield

Marching toward battle with fiery eyes.

"Lying yet, Fishman, like a drowsy cat?"

"I should not count that strange! For age takes toll"

"From all who walk the road of years and hours"

"Who, Wave-Eye, has paid such tribute as you?"

"I am old, knight" said the son of Triton

"But long stillness wearies me, not action"

"Why have come you to me with arms and men?"

"What battle draws nigh to New Camelot?"

Gaheris grew dark "The Mer of Phoros"

"Masters of ancient flame from living stars"

"They come from the depths to wreck our fishers"

"Claim our seas for their bleak inhuman realm"

"None know them as you, so we ask your aid."

6.

The Fishman sighed, for in his head he saw

The streaking blood, making darker the waves

And all his old sins bubbled in his brain

But he rose, taking long lance and gold shield

Relics from the fall of high wizard kings

Who claimed the world in Atlantis's pride

And now are lost and sunken out of sight.

Taking these, the Fishman marched in their line

Leaving his cave to join the Shore Knights' war.

7.

A mighty galleon stood at anchored ease

Awaiting them, made ready for battle

Archers thronged the great iron-bound deck

Adepts of magic murmured together

Agravain was captain, Gaheris mate

And with a shout, the ship raised anchor

Aside was cast the yet uneasy peace

A thousand shouts were loosed when upwards flew

Arthur's flag, gold lion and red dragon

Amidst the chorus the white sails tautened

And Guardian of the Coast fled away.

8.

The Mer of Phoros they met at high noon

A fishing smack, abroil with red flame, blood

Of the ship as humble cross-trees blazed

With the Sun to mark them and lend her fire

To battle the heathen fires of the Mer

Who foamed the water with their fish tails

And in whose eyes burned the evil stars.

"You know your work" said Agravain faintly

For war was duty, no lover to him

No matter how evil the enemy's deeds

"Bring us a harvest for our swords and bows."

9.

From the deck leaped cold old Fishman

And with his great lance striking drew the foe

To the surface where their smooth hides and cloth

Were no defense against the arrows' fall

And the shrieks and wails were hardly counter

To the spells that lashed their maddened forms.

10.

The slaughter grew, but it was not the end

And the Mer for all their rage were cunning

They drew old Fishman away with a pack

While their fiercest crept under the corpses

And stealthily clambering up the hull

Hurled themselves upon the soldiers unready

Who had not thought to guard their back from beasts

And thus were crushed against their friends.

11.

Fire from evil skies swept the deck like hail

As stern Agravain, like an armored crab

Burst upon their flank with a score of swords

Shouting prayers and curses as he felled them

None could withstand him, or his armor's spell

His sword bright with blood until eclipsed

By rushing flame that cut him to the deck

And the sea knight fell gasping to his knees.

The Mer rejoiced in monstrous chorusing

But their joy was short-lived, as the tide turned

Gaheris took command, shouting orders

Weeping for him who he had seen stricken

And loved as a brother for many years.

The axes of Camelot hewed them

And the shields borne in fury were thunder

And archers among the rigging laid low

The great Merfolk's mightiest warriors.

12.

Meanwhile, far below battle's crash and din

In the depths where a warm heart is frozen

His lance all broken between stout Mer ribs

His shield crumbled under the burning star

Old Fishman found the Phoros' hearth made flesh.

A Mermaid, old as he, with as many scars

In her hands she bore the raging red fire

And he drew close "Lady, what is your will?"

"What will make you stay this war between us?"

The Handmaid of the Phoros looked at him

With scorn and hatred in her sea-green eyes

She replied "Naught anything you could give me"

"For my brother's blood flows down here to me"

"And whispers of their deaths. This is your hour"

"Again Wave-Eye will conquer us Merfolk"

"And bring our skulls, heap before his masters"

"The proof of our passing. We wanted fish"

"You gave us lances and nails. Kill me, cruel one!"

13.

For a time Old Fishman swayed before her

Struck to the bone by her bitter lament

And all the mothers whose sons he murdered

Could not have kindled such shame as he felt.

But, of a sudden his black eyes burned

And looking at the Mermaid in wroth said

"You merely want fish? Why then burn the boats?"

"Put to the torch them who did you no evil?"

"Aye, and forge pact with the Phoros, alien things"

"Whose heat and power never come to good?"

"Recall that I have seen this world change too"

"And seen the deep with my own eyes long hence"

"The bounty of the sea is but scratched here!"

"Your vile aim is to rule over all the seas"

"For that, you must perish, God's world is this"

"Never again will it fall to monsters!"

14.

Long after the sun had passed her summit

Old Fishman appeared, bloody and burned

One arm useless, he came aboard in pain

Bearing on one shoulder a white-wrapped corpse

To meet the Shore Knights of New Camelot.

The Handmaid dead, the Phoros fire was lost

And all the army of the sea retreated.

Their loss was great as well, loud was their cry

At the passing of many good soldiers

At the death of Agravain, their captain

Who had led them well through many battles.

They praised God for all that they had won

But rued deeply the price they had payed.

15.

As the Sun fell from her throne in the sky

Making the slain all the redder that eve

The ship bore the bodies of all who fell

Back to the city, mourning the triumph

Leaving Old Fishman again at his cave.

He had refused all care, shunned medicine

And no good healing spells would he permit

"I have sinned, and must remember this ever:"

"Death breeds death, and I must never allow"

"Myself to be led again into war"

"Leave me!" And this they did with much sorrow.

16.

At the mouth of his cave, in the grey water

He washed the body of the Handmaid clean

With labor he went and gathered the dead

With his strange power he mended their flesh

Making them as they had once been hours ago

And taking his trumpet formed of conch shells

He stood on the water, blew a great blast

That made murmur Camelot far away

And the grey sea curled around the fallen

And took the Mer bodies into its care

And dragged them down to the black deep.

17.

Hanging his conch again in the sea cave

That of old had been his refuge in peace

To wait for times of chaos and clashes

To wait for the struggles of land and sea

And in dim days even longer ago

As a new-born of Triton's great brood

Had been a place for laughing and play

Old Fishman sat once again on the beach.

Weariness taking him, stirring his mind

It was welcome when he fell asleep

Dreaming of kind ages that were to come

With Arthur's World Kingdom forever strong.

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Straight Is the Gate, Narrow Is The Way, Lonely Is The Road 
Roads Outside New Camelot City
January 6, Anno Domini 2014
(Gabriel January Vignette) (The Earth-Bound Angel)

Some would find themselves lonely walking down the dusty road that pointed right at the shining beacon of civilization in the New World. The birds and insects and other beasts of the field made noise, but it was subdued. Perhaps they knew of the mighty visitors to the wondrous city today?
Either way, the man on the path seemed content. As if solitude wasn't really that lonely for him. In fact, the vaguely middle-aged man with the red beard just barely tinged with gray seemed almost...happy...as he walked and hummed, his simple wooden walking stick’s thumping adding a certain something to the rhythmic swishing of his simple brown robes.



It is thought that all the angels that exist now have always existed, created at the dawn of everything by the Lord. This is not actually the case, however. It is true that most angels have always existed. But a small number (comparatively small, at any rate, when one counts the legions of Heaven) came into existence later, born from the holiest of matrimony. Some of these births were “pure†angel, both parents being angels, while some were the progeny of saints and others who had passed on to their reward and found new life and love beyond the Gates.

Many times, these marriages were of people whose name would not go down in the history books of Man. God and His angels look at the heart, not the outward appearance or accomplishments, after all. But some are famous in some measure or another. One such child was Heyzel, son of Saint Joan of Arc and Azrael, the Angel of Death. Another was named Gabriel, son of Saint Patrick of Ireland and Gabrielle, daughter of Gavriel, Archangel and Herald of The LORD. Gabriel was born looking mostly human, and at first, he simply grew a small pair of wings. But after only a few years, he suddenly began to develop the features of a full-blown seraphim. He bore six wings, his eyes were lit from within with silver flames, his voice had the timber of one of his grandfather’s trumpets, he grew two more eyes upon his brow, and a row of eyes of flame upon the outside of each of his wings. He bore great power, and quickly learned how to wield it. He was often found in music services or other similar duties, and his heart, and the hearts of his parents, overflowed with joy.

But in time, another calling stirred.



The middle-aged man stopped walking, adjusting his robes a bit as two people came forward. It was a man and a woman, roguishly dressed, wearing blades at their hips and smirks on their faces. They looked utterly confident, as if they’d done this before, and were in complete control of the situation. The dusty traveler’s ears twitched a bit, as if he’d heard a sound. The man, sporting a clean-shaven face and an elegant-looking ponytail, spoke up.

“Hey hey preacher man. You are a priest, right?â€

“After a fashion.â€

“Right, well, myself and the lovely lady here are the guardians of this road, right? Keep brigands and ne’er-do-wells from accosting innocent travelers, keep nasty things from getting too close to the city, things like that. But it’s hard, dangerous work!â€

Here the woman spoke up. Her voice was downright cultured, her eyes flicking over the traveler. Many would think she was considering his potential as a “partnerâ€, but the man in the simple robes knew she was evaluating a threat. And finding none.

“And you seem like a decent guy who’s just passing through. So, while the city guard pays us some, we could really use some extra money. It’s a dangerous traveling season!â€

“Silver and gold have I none. I travel on the goodwill of my brothers and sisters in the Lord, sustained by the Water and Bread of Life.â€

The man and woman looked at each other with raised eyebrows, but the brown-robe-clad wanderer continued.

“But I can show you an more excellent way! For you, and your friends. You are clearly intelligent people. Skilled and cultured people. I believe you do at least sometimes protect innocents from harm.â€

The two in front of him began to smile, but it faded as he continued.

“And then you extort money from them. You place mammon above your fellow man. You know that the Crown provides for bounties on monsters slain and bandits stopped. You know there are even regular allowances for those seeking to protect the highways and byways and root out the darkness. But instead you give and take bribes and steal. Why?â€

The woman spoke, her cultured voice carrying an edge.

“Because they always cheat us if we try to go legitimate. And when you’re just a monster hunter everyone in town looks down on you. But the mysterious and romantic road brigands? That gives you a reputation. A mystique. It keeps our numbers filled. And by now most people just hand over some money and we call it good. We really don’t want to hurt random people, but we also don’t want to sit and stagnate in the city, and the life out here is expensive and dangerous. Why not get some direct compensation from the people we really do protect?â€

“Because it’s wrong. Because not everyone can afford it. And because you gave up on doing the right thing when it became even slightly difficult.â€

His ears heard the sound of steel being drawn.



He had calmly discussed things with his parents, and even his grandfather. Heaven rarely saw angry arguments in families; instead, careful, thoughtful consideration was always given to ideas and actions. There was some natural hesitance, the protective, loving instinct of a family. But such instincts must measure against the power of a seraphim of the Lord, and such power is no small thing. In time, they all agreed: Gabriel would journey to Earth.

But he could not go about all the time as a shining angel. He was going down to protect the people, not just for a moment, but for a long time. He would need another guise, one that would be less awesome. He chose that of a man of indistinct age dressed as a traveler. He was taught how to don the appearance of a man, and how to call upon at least some of his powers while in that guise.

Eventually, he was deemed ready, and was sent down to the world.

For a few years he wandered, doing good where he could, until he found himself assisting some members of the League of Camelot against a particularly vile threat. After the confrontation was over, the League asked him to become a member, and after some prayerful consideration, he accepted. He knew his cousin Heyzel occasionally came by New Camelot City to aid the people, and so he reasoned that a similar arrangement would be even more helpful. He wasn't proven wrong, and he was soon a staunch ally of the League.

It was a good existence, if sometimes lonely. Still and all, he found himself doing much good, both in large, flashy battles against the forces of evil...and small acts of mercy and kindness in the daily lives of the people of New Camelot. More than a few young pickpockets were turned from their ways (and their “handlers†more harshly rebuked) by kind words from the man in brown cloth.

But when greed and pride and wrath and all the other terrible sins of the world reared their heads, Gabriel was their to face them calmly.



Now there were a full 20 men and women surrounding the traveler. Yet still he was calm. He slowly took in the sight. Many of them seemed a bit nervous about the whole thing, even the woman he’d first seen, but the man, the leader, was determined.

“You may be smart enough to figure us out, preacher man, but you’re not smart enough to get out of this. We aren’t going to let you go blabbing about this to everyone in town. It would upset the delicate balance of things.â€

The bearded man’s gaze snaps to the highwayman, and for a moment the thief falters.

“You are the one upsetting a balance. And you are the one who was foolish enough to commit to an action you now have no escape from. What I do now, I do in the hopes that all of you will find yourselves repentant and changed. I shall show you mercy.â€

He smiled a bit. There was no humor in it.

“But not too much mercy. Justice also shall ye behold this day.â€

And in a flash of light, there was a being clad in fiery silver, wings beating against the air, flames of purest white roaring about it, trumpets pealing, eyes gazing, and spear held in its grip.

Everyone present dropped their weapons and cried in fear, but found they could not move from the spot. Many began to weep. For all but a few, their eyes glazed over, and suddenly they acted as if they could not see.

“Thou brigands art not Saul of Tarsus, but ye shall not find thine sight until ye be repentant in thine heart. Thy mouths may speak the words but if the heart be blackened still ye shall be struck deaf and dumb. Go now and harm none more! Beseech the Lord for forgiveness, turn thy hands to the works of righteousness! Make new thine ways and protect thy people!â€

And just as quickly, the handful of non-blinded people saw a simply-clothed man with a beard in front of them, a gentle smile on his face. His lips did not move but still they heard his voice in their ear and their heart.

“You are to lead your brothers and sisters into town. Your hearts hold the least corruption. Take this mercy I have extended, and extend it to others. Learn from this, repent, and begin your lives anew. I see great potential within you.â€

He began walking, and stopped as he walked past the woman who had confronted him on the road. The same group heard the same voice again.

“You probably won’t be able to walk for a few minutes though. My apologies. I have an important appointment, and I cannot be any later than I already am.â€

With that, he resumed walking, now lightly singing a him, a veritable skip in his step.

(“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.†- Hebrews 13:2, NASB)

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Sunset

 

The Apothecrary and the Alchemist

 

“Verily, ‘tis another sad tale. To much ‘o the Poppy doth consume body and soul, and starves of both physical and spiritual nourishment†sighed Sunset, grinding mortar and pestle together with practiced hand, full of callouses from years at work.

 

 

“I know all too well the tragedy†she continued, fingering a silver necklace that lay around her dark and beautiful neck.

“My lover was consumed by the poppy years ago†she explained to the parents of the moaning skeleton of a man that lie in her shoppe.

Of course, it was a very long time ago. Decades ago. Before she was born. But Sunset was always able to see the past, in vivid

hallucinations. Twas her name, after all. The seeing of the past, the setting sun. Some said her visions were from God, some from the Devil, most said she was a fraud. As for herself, she did not know. Perhaps, she did not care.

 

But her lover was with her, in the silver chain round her neck, lending his strength. A ghost from the past. She reached up to hold it, and felt the spirit of her lover flood through her.

 

All you need is love…

 

The whisper of him filled the air, like a zephyr, barely heard, barely believable. But there he was, taking away the young man’s pain, taking away his yearning.

 

His eyes fluttered, and he sank into a deep, serene sleep.

 

“’Tis done†she bowed slightly to the man’s parents. “His body is weak still, yearning your nursing. Feed him well, body and soul†she said to the weeping and grateful parents.

 

Once alone, she sat down, gently, in her castle room, full of quaint and mysterious jars, potions, and ointments. The fluids and forms could distract a curious eye for hours. Yet Sunset just closed her eyes, held her silver locket on silver chain, and felt the ghostly presence of the man she had come to love, after a fashion.

 

Tis not well, my love. I knew his mind, and devious plot is brewing.

 

“What skulduggery is this?†she asked him, alarmed.

 

Poison, most black, most foul. His meals of poppy were given to him as feast, to procure his loyalty. He was procuring flower and root, deadly both. He knew not what he gathered, but there can be no mistake.

 

“Who then is behind this plot?†she inquired, pressing him with growing trepidation.

 

The Alchemist, Sir Levitt!

 

The jigsaw fell into place. Sir Levitt, the crazed alchemist in the kings employ, was not well of mind. His concoctions had a most fearful effect, causing madness and terror. And Sir Levitt was one to sow havoc, and take any place or piece of power he could in the royal court.

 

Sunset bolted straight up, gathering her luxurious orange robes around her, and paced herself briskly to the Alchemists rooms, deep down in the lower levels of Freeedom City castle.

 

“Open up, Sir Levitt! I will not sway, I will not be dismissed! I demand word!†she shouted through the door, banging on it with her closed fist.

 

Presently, the door swung open, with wooden creak. Sir Levitt’s face crept up to hers, a mass of tussled white hair over a tall, thin, and gangly frame. His body was aged and weak, but his eyes displayed cunning and ambition.

 

“Yes yes!†he spat back. “I am in the middle of most delicate experiment. The mixing and distillation of chemicals far beyond your herb and oil!†he said, contemptuously.

 

“Let me in, or I will summon guard and wag tongue of your experiments…†Sunset hissed back, before barging in to his laboratory.

 

It was full of glass, with peppering of flames and smoke. Liquids of every colour and consistency bubbled or oozed through pipes and pipettes. A strange, not unpleasant odour hit her nose, and she felt a sweat clamber up her spine.

 

“What foul concoction are you making, Sir?†she demanded. “I know you have gathered most worrisome materials…root of the black orchid, and flower of the angel vine†she explained, hoping her insinuations would make the man blub.

 

But Sir Levitt was made of sterner, more devious stuff.

 

“And what of it? I am charged by King to press forward all manner of alchemical knowledge, madam. I must investigate every resource, every rock, mineral, vegetable, or…†he licked his lips…â€animal…â€

 

The rumours of his using human body parts in his experiments was not to be forgotten.

 

“So be it, but I will have answers!†Sunset replied, as she once again held to her silver locket, and her lover seeped through the ether, plucking and strumming Sir Levitts mind.

 

Yes, it was all there, his plot to unleash most foul vapours at the feast tonight, to wreak havoc on King and Queen, no less.

 

“Out of my head! Out of my head!†he yelled, scuttling away, holding his skull with both hands and shaking it.

 

“You shall not foil my triumph, even if you know my schemes!†he declared, bringing glass bottle to hand, then dashing it to the floor.

 

A purple haze exploded into the air, one of Dr Levitts infamous terror gasses. Sunset could feel her sweat congeal, her heart race and burst from her chest. Every hair stood on end, electric and raw. Pure fear swept through her. Dragons, Demons, Spiders, every nightmare seemed to form in the gas and loom at her.

 

Embrace me, love. You are safe…

 

Her lovers words were strong and sincere, a light in the darkness. Holding her breath and closing her eyes, she reached out to her lover, and, with soul and mind, embraced him.

 

“You won’t…defeat me…so easily….†She gasped back at Sir Levitt, her heart still bounding but no longer exploding.

Once again, she felt the power of her ghostly lover seep forth, stealing at Sir Levitt.

 

“Oh yes I will!†answered Sir Levitt, behind his glass and liquids. “And tonight, I will…I will…†he paused, confused.

 

“I will…do something…I am sure I was going to do something….yes, I had made the…what had I made? I made something….†He shook his head.

 

“I…can’t remember!†he conceded, purple with frustration. 

 

“Remember this, Sir Levitt!†said Sunset, removing herself politely from his laboratory. At the doorway, she completed. “My eyes are on you, and no scheme or plot of yours will see light of day. For they will see Sunset!â€

 

And with that, fear still gripping her, but smile of victory on her lips, she departed. 

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King of Suits and Pitch

 

The Witch in the Woods:

 

The vast expanse of Wharton Forest was home to goblin, ghoul, and malign spirit. Or so the people said. Superstition bubbled and simmered in the lands, and it was not born of vacuum. For every half dozen or dozen stories without basis, there was one that had a seed of truth. And, on occasion, a mighty oak.

 

The forest was also home to one wild woman, Carmen by name. She was not popular with the folk of the land.

 

Six fingered, crippled witch. Illegitimate daughter of a famous black magician, some thought she was the devil’s child with all literal meaning. Brought up a beggar, she soon progressed to outcast, scraping together a living on the outskirts of the city and in the forest.

Of course, in a sense, she was a witch. And in more of a sense, the townsfolk should be scared of her.

 

Carmen leant on her withered staff of black wood. She was dirty, smelly, and wild. Her skin was drawn tight, thin bones and body the sign of little food. Living in the forests was not easy. She may have been beautiful, but the labours of living out in the wild, and the burnt brand on her cheek had marred the beauty that lingered in her.

 

Yes, she remembered the mob calling her witch. Had remembered the brand seared into her face. The pain was a vivid as the scar.

She examined the basket in front of her. Bread, sweet bread. Cured and smoked meats and fish. Cheeses hard and soft. All rarities to her palate, but not unknown. For whilst the folk where quick to band as mob and inflict their rage and fears on any scapegoat, such professed moral tribalism was oft forgot when the people needed a witch. Even the fear of her was forgot, if need was dire.

 

The girl who had come with gifts was sixteen, or thereabouts, wrestling with terror and pale. Her voice was threadlike and hushed, as if every word was gulped back into the lungs for fear of what it might do if let free to be heard.

 

“I…I besseech ye help, miss…I…I have worms, a plague most unnatural. The medicine man gave me the leeches, but I still be ill, miss. It is the devils work! I be wanting to get married, bear children of me own, but I bit fit for ‘nowt…†she said, ashamedly.

 

Carmen clucked.

 

“First they burn me, now they want me. Tell me then, why should I help you who drove me here?†she asked, full of bitterness. No matter how hungry she was, the bitter taste was always there.

 

“Puh…puh…lease miss. I don’t want to end up like…like…â€

 

“Like me†finished Carmen. “Well I don’t want to end up like me, either, girl, but so was the ways of it. Still, I best not be cursing you for the work of your parents, such as they cursed me…†she said, tempering her anger and finding sympathy.

 

The worms, as it was, were indeed most unnatural. A thing beyond the simple potions and balms of medicine men. The girl was right, there was something of the unnatural in them, black and thread, running through veins behind pale flesh. Carmen did not believe in the devil, as was told. She believed in devils, which was more queer, and full of madness.

 

Banishing the queerness was possible, of course. But the banishing was draining, long, and weird. The dark silhouettes of trees in fading light carried the mumbled rituals and occasional screeches of her voice. A faint smell of burning, and sulphur, wisped through the air. The setting sun cast the deepest and most unnatural flickering red light through the forest.

 

Nearby…

 

For very good reason, the Wharton Forest was largely avoided by travelers at night. The vast woodlands of Europe, the jungles of Africa and Asia, all had their share of dangers and strange stories, but the dark trees that stood like an endless wall on the very borders of New Camelot were hide things ever stranger and more dire than they. Unlike the rest of the world, the continent had not seen knights or magicians until only a century or more ago, and the creatures the lurked in its depths had yet no fear of fire or steel. Most of the woodcutters and hunters were already making their hurried way out, back to a blazing hearth, warm smiles and a bed to rest their aching muscles/

So it was that when a figure shrouded in black slid noiselessly between the trunks, heading ever deeper into the shadowed wood, the leaves themselves seemed to watch.

 

Father Marceau had seen the spires of Calacut as a child, wandered the World Kingdom's furthest realms as a youth, and fought some of its most sinister evils as a man, but this mission unlike any he had ever gone on, and the thought of what awaited him made him unconsciously draw his cloak about himself and quicken his pace. He and Pitch had met more than once before, never happily. As one of Fen-by-Water's few priests, he often met people in the very nadir of despair, willing to do anything just to live another day. Some he had managed to help escape from their torments, but all too many disregarded him and his words entirely, turning instead to other self-proclaimed benefactors offering a quicker, easier way to what they wanted. And the devilish voices were never far from their ears.

 

'Yes' Marceau thought grimly, feeling for a deep pocket of his long traveling cloak 'they are all the Devil's kin at heart. With Pitch it is just clearer to see' a flash of dying sunlight lit up the face of something vivid red and stark white before he stepped into another growing pool of shadow, and when he returned to the light it was gone.

 

Long travels and harsh suns had done their work on him, and the young man looked more like a weathered war veteran than a junior priest in his mid twenties, and seeing the evils that were done by Sun and Moon, from East to West, had hammered him into a tall man with a forbidding and iron-wrought mein. His step was utterly silent on a street unless he wished to be heard, and even on the forest floor strewn with branches and leaves he was like a passing ghost. Every now and again he paused, stooped to examine some broken branch or a stone moved from its place, then rose and resumed his swift, heron-like strides.

 

Cora's parents had told him about what had happened, begging for his help in saving their daughter, blaming themselves for unknowingly driving her away. A simple question of what she had taken had told him everything he needed to know. 'She hasn't run, she's gone to visit her' he mused, eyes catching a tell-tale broken flower beside a crisp stream.

 

Crossing it in a single bound, he hurried onward 'Why? What was so terrible that she dared not tell even us?'

 

The sound of a chanting voice, a fire burning red just a little way off 'Something that could only be Hell's work. So to Hell's daughter she goes'

 

Years ago, before he had left the Old World and come to the New to spread the Gospel, Marceau had on his wanderings found many strange things. Weapons that refused to kill, a pale rock that grew dark when held by the wicked, cloth that always matched the sky. Chief among them was the deck of cards blessed by a man martyred in Africa, said to contain the power of a heathen spirit. Though Marceau never trusted the unnatural, the cards had saved his life time and again, turning the tide of battle in ways that defied understanding. But first, there was work to do. He couldn't let the witch get any further with whatever she was doing, like as not she was corrupting the innocent girl into a servant of Hades.

 

Slipping close enough to the fire that he could see clearly who was beside it despite the deep twilight and flickering shadows, he recognized Pitch and Cora with both revulsion and an inward sigh of relief. Drawing a card from the deck, he lunged into the clearing, landed across the flames from his quarry in a whirl of darkness, and flung his weapon in a blaze of light straight into the chest of Pitch. The card struck like a cannonball, carrying her into the underbrush with an explosion of broken wood and dirt!

 

"Ware, child! Hide from this battle! Get behind the trees" he thundered, casting the hood back from his shorn head, his cold blue eyes blazing in the firelight above his bristling beard. "Keep yourself from the witch, lest she use you in her evil spells!"

 

With that he turned and faced where Pitch had been thrown, readying another card and taking a crucifix from his belt.

 

Pitch groaned in reply, wiping smoke from her face.

 

“Damn you, Priest! Can I ever be rid of you? Why must I be tormented so!†she implored, fury rising. For all her rage, however, she was tired, the work of extracting infernal curse from Cora had taken its toll.

 

She paused a moment. She was tired, body aching, the card of the Priest taking all that was left of her wind when it exploded on her.

“What say you to evil, and good?†she said, bringing forth the chained demon from its cage inside her. “Your words and wisdom lack wit, are free from subtlety! Right and wrong are no so easily divided! Did ‘ere consider what evil spell I cast? Did you ‘ere consider that my dealings with beasts be to chain and bind them? Aye! Pitch serves no demon, they serve me!†she screamed, exhaling pure fire.

 

The roar and whine of the flames matched the bright burning light. The flames danced from her breath, curled and swooned, and then formed into a blazing fiery imp, stood in the forest, burning bracken on its feet, and with red flaming eyes locked on Marceau.

 

“Run now, Priest! I will not be chained and burned by ignorant townsfolk as last time! I may be weak, but my slave Tazel is not!†she shouted at Marceau.

 

“Delightful feast!†groaned Tazel, voice like crackling. “A priest! You set me free for such a delicacy! I shall taste him well!†grinned the fiery demon. 

 

The roaring appearance of the demon, a creature of malice so great its sole possibility of life on Earth was as consuming fire, made a clear impression on his clerical foe. The priest took an involuntary step back, crossing himself as his already iron face grew yet grimmer, thinking 'No doubt about it, she wishes to make Cora a slave of the Evil Ones'.

Father Marceau bristled at Pitch's words "I never hear such excuses" he growled, eying the swirling fires of Tazel and gauging its mistress's vigor "unless the speaker wishes to escape justice! Of course the paths of good and evil can be unclear, witch, that's what God's word is for! What virtue is there in making yourself more an outcast? Do you think anyone will pity thy self-made misery? Ye have bound the Beasts that would drag us all to Hell, aye and good, thanks for that, but ye forget the next step: the banishing!"

"As for you," he pointed the cross at the imp, "rejoice when you have conquered, shade!"

Marceau had traveled the world seeking to emulate the League Knights who had come once to France, doing battle even with fiends given earthly form. Battles that stood him in good stead as he walked forward, the cross held high. But he stayed his hand. There was still a chance the fight could be avoided, despite his hastiness. Something about what Pitch said was bothering him as well.

"And what is this I hear about 'what evil spell' ye cast? When have your powers ever led to good without woe soon after, Pitch? What proof have you that you meant anything but evil for that" he gestured angrily at Cora, peering from the tree she'd gotten behind more from shock than actual desire to obey, quaking with fear at the sight of Tazel "luckless, desperate girl? Will even she deny you meant her ill? Come now, the truth!"

 

Tazel roared forth, the flame heaving towards the Clerical feast, twisting through the forest and the burnt bracken beneath him. He was fast, but not as fast as Marceau.

 

“I’ll burn you, priest!†it grinned, all lustful desire in its eyes and smiling mouth “’tis not oft I am set free to such a treat!â€

 

Perhaps the infernal fire would have burnt the Priest. Or perhaps the Priest had, under sacred sleeve, some ace. Holy water, or Catholic Relic that may have warded or banished the beast.

 

That road was not travelled, that story not told.

 

Cora yelled out.

 

“Please father! Please! I am cured!†she yelled, her face brighter, her body flush with health and vigour once more.

 

At Cora's shout, Father Marceau had turned and really seen her for the first time. His iron determination faltered 'But...then what...

 

“Tazel! Stop, I command you!†said Pitch, on her knees with exhaustion, head bowed, ragged hair draped over her face like straw. She was exhausted from the ritual.

 

“Priest, I banish too. That young girl, for instance. Any touch or curse with infernal beat is a woeful thing to the folk who know little. You think I do not know this? Yea, I bind the beasts, to fight fire with fire. I will not be standing for brimstone and smoke, no less than you. You have your crucifix and cards, I have my slaves†she said, still cast downwards of eyes, body weak and feeble.

 

“Now then, wish you death on me? For my work, unholy as it be, is a blight on all demonkind. My name is hissed and cursed. No name despised more so! And yet, and yet…you would burn me at the stake, all for the sake of my hated Father!â€

 

Her words were stronger now. She clambered onto her staff, and raised herself, tearing down her rags to show the Priest her back. A tattoo showed clear, lit by the fires of Tazel.

 

“This! No demon or devil can touch me! Avert not your eyes, Priest, I show you my flesh from shame. This is what my father did to me! All I can do is choose what I do with it!†she replied to him defiantly.

 

“Now let me be! I have no desire to burn a man of the cloth like you. But make no mistake, I would rather you burn than me!â€

 

The Hellish mark on her back provoked a grimace of disgust from Father Marceau, but learning who had placed it there drowned the last of his desire to fight.

 

When she mentioned burning, he spoke at last "That need happen to neither of us. It seems we both sought the same end after all. I am sorry," he added grimly, replacing the cross and cards back in the depths of his black cloak, "but I had never met any who used the Enemy's power against it. Since you have done such service to her, I shall take her back to her parents, and tell them truthfully of what happened. And remind them that few could do such a thing even among the ranks of the blessed."

 

With long steps he reached Cora's side and gently took her hand in his, turning to Pitch again before he left "Thank you. I can do little for you, but if you wish to talk again...you know where I live, andI will listen. Fare well, witch."

 

With that, he bowed slightly and vanished back through the forest, heading back to the lights of New Camelot, and the world that feared what lay outside. Behind him, Carmen collapsed in a head, exhausted from the ritual of banishment, and the cost extracted from Tazel. But for the first time in decades, her sleep was easy, and restful. 

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Cavalier

 

Up the Airy Mountain

 

Kyle Steward watched with some disappointment as another model fell from the air outside of his study, clattering to wooden bits on the bricks below. He sighed and turned back to his desk, working on the modifications.

 

“Ho, Steward!†came a cry from the courtyard – that would likely be his landlady. “Another attempt at wooden birds?â€

 

“One day they’ll fly,†he called back, as jovially as possible. Miss Lancaster was tolerant of his eccentricities, which was more than he could say for some in the neighborhood. Already, he was developing a reputation amongst his neighbors as “the dreamer in the strange clothes with those damn machines.â€

 

Then again, he’d developed that reputation some time ago. Two years ago, he’d gone out to the forest to take some sketches, parting ways with his parents. That was the last they saw of him. They’d made posters of his image, and the city guard had investigated, but little had come of it.

 

And then, close to a year ago, he’d returned, landing on his hands and knees outside of a tavern on the river’s edge. When people learned his name, he soon became a brief cause for attention – namely because, despite being gone a year, he’d clearly aged more than that. All he could share was tales of other worlds, strange and marvelous skies. Many said that he’d been taken by the fairies, but a few just said he’d been roaring drunk for close to a year.

 

Either way, he had enough riches – what they said about fairy gold wasn’t entirely true – to get set up in a small apartment and to pursue his studies. Which, unfortunately, weren’t the most fruitful ones. It often sent him to bed cursing. He had seen these things. He had seen goblin sappers flying in wooden birds, soaring on hurricanes. He had seen clockwork cities floating above lands of vapor. But try as he might to work these wonders on the firmament, he saw them clattering to pieces, time and time again. If this kept up much longer, he might as well turn to his sketches and try to sell those for a few coins.

 

He was trying to redesign the plane when the chime rung through the empty apartment. He lifted his sleeve to check on a bracelet that appeared to be made from carved emerald. At least he’d brought some wonder back from Faerie that worked reliably.

 

“What is it, Academ?â€

 

“Sir Kyle.†Academ always spoke like Socrates holding a dialogue – he figured a spirit of intellect wouldn’t speak like anything else. “We have received a bird. A trading caravan has fallen off the Starlit Path, and has come under siege.â€

 

“Who are the targets, and who are the assailants?â€

 

“The assailants are… uncertain, at this time. Lack of general accounting. The assailants are a small group of kobolds, accompanied by a few mortal traders.â€

 

Well, that was something. It appeared that more and more mortals were taking risks and walking the roads into Faerie, looking for riches and legend. He couldn’t exactly blame them, but he wished they’d at least take more precautions. “I am on my way,†he said.

 

He flicked his wrist, as if shaking his hand dry. The bracelet responded to his gesture, swiftly creeping up his arm, swallowing his clothes and expanding fully. In seconds time, it resembled full plate carved from gemstones. The main plating was pure emerald, with the gauntlets studded with diamonds with hints of gold and red. He peered out through a quartz visor, scrutinizing for the nearest tear in the wall between worlds. He didn’t like doing it this way – if he’d been about on the city, he could have found a worn-down arch, an open grave, or a small, shady copse that might grant him a path to Faerie. But time was of the essence, and he didn’t wish to raise more questions by going outside dressed like this.

 

He found his tear and raised his gauntlets. As the diamonds flashed blue, he felt the air around him melt away like marzipan under a rainstorm. The apartment faded, leaving in its place a forest where the trees stretched as tall as the Colossus of Rhodes. Up through the canopy, he could see the ghost of sunlight – and under his feet, he could see the Starlit Path. It was whispered that the Tuatha de Danaan had seized the light from the first night the stars shined, and used it to illuminate the shifting chaos of Faerie. This was the road that took many to the strange realms of the fae – and which kept them from drawing the attentions of predators in the dark woods.

 

He marched down the path, moving like a stallion thanks to the enchantments of his armor. There were so many roads he could take, so many worlds he wished to see again. Places with crashing waves frozen in ice, looming like mountains. Worlds of bronze dust with brass cities and alluring warrior men with skin like rubies and voices like thunder. It was easy to get lost in the wonders of Faerie – and lose sight of reality entirely. And he’d done that once before. His compatriots from that reluctant journey were scattered down the many paths. One day, he might find them again. But today, there were other concerns.

 

He found the caravan after an hour’s search. The wagons, few that they were, were circled. Volleys of crossbow bolts – and more than a few bloodstains – littered the ground around it. One of those bolts zoomed neatly past his head, telling him that the people inside were still alive and capable of firing. “It’s all right!†he called out. “I’m here to help!â€

 

A woman in robes stuck her head out of the depths of the wagon. “The creatures,†she shouted back. “Are they gone?â€

 

That was a very good question. He turned back to the woods; the lenses of his armor were enchanted to pierce through glamours, which meant any fae creature relying on them for cover was in for a nasty surprise. The coast seemed clear, though – there was nothing in this part of the woods save for trees and their shadows. “All seems clear,†he said. “I’ll be over there in a trice, and we can –“

 

That’s when he noticed the shadow of a tree branch move, as if its counterpart had twitched in the breeze. But there was no wind in this part of Avalon. He cursed under his breath. The lenses were enchanted to discern glamours. Transformations, on the other hand…

 

“Barricade yourselves!†he called back. “They’re --â€

 

The shadows sprung up as one, like a geyser of ink. In the half-second it took for them to coalesce, Kyle realized they weren’t one mass – they were a good two dozen shadows, pouring together into one gigantic form. And when it came together, it was the stuff of nightmares – a sable spider with too many legs, eleven eyes the various shades of onyx and obsidian, and fangs like greatswords dangling from horrible mandibles. It chattered as it rose up on its haunches, a terrible storm washing over Kyle. And amongst the mess, he heard something he could understand:

 

“You. We remember… you…â€

 

Fear washed over him like cold water. The night he first entered Avalon, he’d been dragged from a darkened copse through a shadowed gate by a hundred cold, clawed hands. Almost as a reflex, Kyle raises both gauntlets, pushing his will into them.  Amber lightning shot out from the gems, crackling across the thing’s corpus. A storm raged over it, dancing on every surface… and barely scratching a dent. The lightning died down, leaving little more than a few scorch marks.

 

“Amusing. We shall… have you…â€

 

The thing’s legs slammed forward with the force of falling timber. Kyle ducked back, knowing there would be only so much distance he could get from this thing before it overwhelmed him. He’d gotten away from these creatures the first time – well, all right, he’d been rescued, but he’d still gotten away. What had happened? Why couldn’t he remember?

 

There was only so far he could back up; these woods were dark and wild, and the last thing he wanted to do was trip over a tree root while the behemoth was closing with him. He looked up through the canopy – here the trees were thick, and the shadows ran long along the forest floor. But this creature seemed to cling tightly to the shadows, as if afraid of the light. And perhaps, closer to the sky…

 

He channeled his will into his boots, and leapt towards the nearest tree trunk. He bounced between trees, swinging up like the monkey-beasts he’d seen in some corners of Avalon. But as he sprung towards the treetops, the creature followed close behind, its dread, shadowy bulk seemingly weightless as it climbed after him.

 

“You cannot escape,†it hissed. “We have been with you always. From when you gathered around fires, dreaming on the hungry things in the night. We were there. You dreamt of us.â€

 

He knew he’d only have a narrow chance if he wished to make this work. He climbed faster, and while the creature tried to keep up, it was losing ground. Just as he wanted. The light was burning brighter through the trees, and he could see beams dancing off of the dark wood. Taking a position in one of the lower branches, he turned his gaze upwards. There was a thick, heavy branch, holding up a large part of the canopy. It would do.

 

Focusing all of his will through the gauntlets, Kyle levied one massive blast at the branch. It cracked with a sound like thunder as the sheer force cut through it, causing it to catch fire even as it plummeted towards the forest floor. The gigantic burning mass caught the creature right in the face, causing it send up a hideous shriek. But that was nothing compared to when the first rays of light struck it. Its roar shook the forest to its foundations, and its form seemed to boil away into coils of black smoke. In less than a minute, the nightmare was dashed away, leaving nothing but the sound of distant wind.

 

“Academ?†No sound. “Academ!â€

 

“Sir Kyle, is that you? There was something preventing me from reaching you –“

 

“Academ, this… abomination made out of shadows and whispers was responsible for the attack on the merchants. It’s dispatched, but it knew me. I think I encountered whatever dragged me into Avalon. I’m turning my gaze towards its remains – what little there are. Does any of this register with your senses?â€

 

There was a long silence on Academ’s end, followed by something accompanying a sigh. “I had hoped they were just rumors…â€

 

“What rumors? By His wounds, Academ, these things took years from me! Tell me what they are!â€

 

“In the days when Faerie was young, first born from the dreams of the children of Adam, there were dark and hungry beasts, born of primal and untamed fears. They were the Fomorians. They were banished to the depths of the unshaped world, but… it appears that something has called them back.â€

 

“What something? Some unrest between the Seelie and Unseelie? Some grand sidereal alignment?â€

 

“Nothing to do with affairs of Avalon. At least, directly. It appears that… whatever is calling them, it is amongst humanity.â€

 

Kyle shook his head as he descended from the canopy. The traders would still need help getting back to the firmament, once he led them back on the Starlit Path. After that, he would have to go find this damnable beacon. He wouldn’t let others get dragged into the dark places of the world. 

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Lord Steam

 

Lord Wheel and the Dragon.

 

 

“Hold men! The Dragon’s Den is yonder!†commanded Lord Wheel.

 

He cut a curious figure for a knight. The steel breastplate was there, smelted by himself, a steel so fine that there was none equal in the realm. A thin, elegant rapier was slung by his side, adorned by silver and gold decoration. No helm for Lord Wheel, instead, a tall floppy hat, purple and regal, with a large plume of swan feathers.

 

He was tall, thin, with a snakes speed and strength. His face was bright and handsome, with flowing brown locks.

 

He was the Kings very own Siege Engineer. His ballistas, catapaults, and towers had won many a battle, turning tide for the realm. Few castles could resist his sapping and his artillery.

 

And yet, today, his ingenuity and wit was fixed towards quite a different target.

 

The lands far south of Freedom City had been plagued by a dragon. Its scales thick and impenetrable, black and oily red. Its wings leathery and dark. Its breath was smoke, fire, and toxic fumes, laying waste to field, crop, and any valiant but dim knight who dared challenge its reign of terror.

 

Already the farmlands where ruined, and starvation had driven refugees north to Freedom City with tails of the beast.

 

And now, Lord Wheel was in sight of the deep black cave, carved into mountain, where the dragon lay. The sun was high, and this far south, the heat was too. His face glowed with sunburn, and he could feel the sweat rinsing his body. He and his men would find such glaring climes hard to endure for long. Water was scarse in supply for his small retinue.

 

Squire Blakely trotted to his side, a man older than he was, but who stoutly refused to become knighted, preferring the company of Lord Wheel. Blakely was no swordsman, but a crack shot with the crossbow, and his skill with herb and flame made his cookery a mighty boon to the morale of Lord Wheel’s men, and Lord Wheel himself.

 

Arrow and lance, it seemed, where useless against the scale of the beast, even if bolstered with valiant courage and devout prayer. What Lord Wheel proposed was a matter of practicality. Engineering, mathematics, and the hard work of the Kings carpenters and blacksmiths.

Behold! Pulled by a half dozen pack mules each, the Dragonslayers! Massive portable ballistas, each loaded with screw top lances of finest steel, sharp as a razor, heavier than a lance, and ready to be propelled, faster than a galloping horse.

 

“Take aim, men!†commanded Lord Wheel, taking out a telescope and measuring tools, for distance, wind, elevation. His own inventions, and masterful in function and form. After taking readings, he brought out his abacus, and with a staccato click-clack of brass beads, set to work.

“It all boils down to the parabola†he explained to his loyal but disinterested men. Hardy sell swords, they cared more for the frenzied pleasure of hack and parry, cut and thrust, rather than the fineries of calculus. Few could even read. In this case, however, they were more than grateful to the art of maths. For none would muster courage to slay dragon by himself, and wise in that resolve they would be. Their faith and bravery hinged on the calculations of Lord Wheel, and the Massive seinge artillery they had with them.

 

Numbers were beaten into submission, and the three engines carefully aimed at the cave of the beast. And now, Lord Wheel went to work in the execution of plan most cunning. Dragonflesh would not be burned or branded by any mortal fire, and perhaps no godly one. And yet, it was still flesh, and needed to breathe.

 

Smoke! That was the thing! In an enclosed space such as the cave, smoke would force it out. Thus came the fourth of Lord Wheels engines of war, a catapult, loaded with a concoction of tars, oils, and embers. The ball of ooze was duly lit by Squire Blakely, and immediately danced

with wisps of flame, releasing a foul belch of toxic and odorous smoke.

 

“Quick! Before this quest fails by our own hand!†coughed Lord Steam, giving command that launched the offensive ball straight into the maw of the cave, a trail of dark smoke giving eloquent image to his abstract calculations of the parabola.

 

Into the maw it swam, and it ‘twas not long before the mouth of the cave was thick with the smoke, coughing and belching. And then…the roar! A horrible roar, full of fear and burning, as the dragon awoke!

 

“Now men, ready! And fire on my command!†said Lord Wheel firmly, as morale started to seep from his retinue. And his orders were well timed, for the dragons head breached the smoke, screaming murder, breathing fire, and casting its gaze left and right for the brave and foolish insect that had awoken it.

 

“Fire!†came the shout, and upon command, the three lances of steel shot like darting snakes through the air, deadly and true.

Thud! Thud! Thud! Came the sounds, a beat to accompany the roar of flame and beating of leathery wings. The aim had been true, the path perfect. All three bolts landed with terrible force into the belly of the beast. Amidst the fury, a hissing noise could be heard, becoming a rumble, and then, with a cry of despair, the dragon was consumed in its own fireball, rent asunder as it blew itself apart in an inferno.

Cheers of victory and relief rang from the soldiers, and resonated throughout the southern lands. Lord Wheel gave a bow and a victory parade.

 

“The dragon is slain! Let all know freedom from its fear!†he proclaimed, “And let all bear witness to the wonders of wheel, cog, spring, and hinge! For ‘tis the destiny of man to harness the forces of nature, to build, to aspire, and to know!â€

 

He felt the vaguest shadow of unease in the back of his head, a thought easily forgotten, quickly dismissed. His words rang true to his ears, but something told him, some intuition, that they were too true, that this world was wrong…

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The Mage-Knight’s Tower
Tower, Forest Outside New Camelot City
January 6, Anno Domini 2014
(Cobalt Templar January 2014 Vignette)

Much of the Forest surrounding New Camelot was a dangerous place to anyone not a member of the League. There were a few scattered refuges and resting points for weary travelers, a couple of remote monasteries...and a large tower.

It was nothing to compete with the grand Hall of the League inside the City, but the tower stood in the midst of the trees, only a small path leading up to it. Yet, for all its isolation in the dark forest, it was a beacon of light at night. Lanterns shone from multiple points around the perimeter of the tower, and many of the rooms were lit throughout the night.
It had a strange look about it, though. one would think it was some reclusive wizard’s tower, being out here in the forest. But the size and the arrangement suggested an almost military mindset behind it. You could probably house a small company of regular troops there! And then there was the set of landings just below the peak of the tower; they seemed tailor-made for the flying members of the League…

But the League of Camelot rarely visits. They did not build this tower, or oversee its construction. No, it was undertaken by a group older than even mighty Camelot. They worked with the League as often as not, and shared the same goals and intents to protect the world from the forces of darkness…

Yet the Order of the Seven Rings had never sworn itself to the League. They had sworn an oath to the crown, back in the days when the Empire first stretched across most all of the globe. But that oath gave them great levels of autonomy. This was likely offset by the rather small number of full members; much of the tower was populated by retainers or secondary guard forces who mostly helped bring in supplies, or occasionally aid the Order.

But it was the Seven who kept the light burning in the darkness. Seven rings, seven warriors, one purpose.

The Order’s lineup often stayed the same for a century, maybe two, as the rings granted great lifespan, but all who wore them eventually tired of the station and sought a new bearer.
Today, they were a mighty group. Cobalt Templar, the leader of the Order for almost 30 years now. Jade Knight, the upbeat heart of the Order. Scarlet Champion, the fearless warrior who often charged ahead of even their leader. Gold Chevalier, the canny strategist of the ring-bearers. Indigo Hierophant, their quiet but invaluable comrade. Amethyst Cavalier, the gentle healer who often surprised foes with how dangerous she was. And their newest member, Ochre Paladin, a young woman from a far-away island land, eager to prove her worthiness and resolve.

The Tower itself was the permanent home of Cobalt Templar and, for the last 10 years, his wife. Quo-Dis was from a reclusive group of mystics who had found ways to tap into the shining light of Creation, and had managed to make this ability breed true within their lines. Her father had been a fallen champion of theirs, which had caused some noble tongues to wag, but the Ultimate Woman’s courage and righteousness were beyond reproach. Any who questioned otherwise faced the ire of the Crown, the Order, the League, and more than a few other champions of good and justice in the world.

Tonight, Cobalt Templar, Lord Corbin Alphonse Hughes of the Merchant House Hughes, stood on his bedroom balcony, clad in a simple tunic and pants, his bare feet upon the stone, and stared at the sky as the sun dawned and his wife slept on.

He had what many might consider a dream life. He was heir apparent to a Merchant House, but was likely to pass the responsibility (at least in trust) on to his younger brother. He was married to an incredible woman. He fought the good fight against Evil and darkness alongside six of the greatest heroes in the realm (the League were generally good folks, but Sir Thunder had a lightning rod in places one ought not to). Instead of watching everyone he loved waste away, he could live with not only his brothers and sisters in arms, but also his beloved for centuries, standing vigil in the night.

So why did something rouse him from his sleep? Why did something feel..off? What were these dreams that haunted him tonight? Dreams of a City shining even brighter than New Camelot...and dreams of cities torn to ruins by terrible machines of war, of demons or worse screaming through the sky…

He’d heard the announcement last night, about the strange and terrible forces at work that would try to undermine their faith in God and the King. He’d taken the warnings to heart, though perhaps with less...vigor...than the League. But now, he wondered if something truly was wrong. The ring he wore was a holy artifact; it would not allow corruption to wield its flames.

So if his Ring did not reject him for having these doubts...Then did that mean they were real?

More importantly, did he want them to be real? This other life he’d caught glimpses of; it was not a bad life by any means, but somehow he felt more...content...here. More settled. As if this was, in at least some way...his dream life.

Corbin closed his eyes and let out a deep sigh. A single tear rolled down his cheek as he saw once more three decades of war and death, and considered that that was somehow more real. He felt the first flutters of his wife’s consciousness, and the doubts and fears and dreams were locked in the furthest backlog of his mind.

If this life was not real, another hero could be bothered to fix it. He had a warm home to enjoy. And if this was real, and the rest a dream, well, then such would be his lot in life.

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Nick Cimitiere

 

Stand and Deliver

 

There was a term for men who dwelt in the woods outside of the city, clad in dark leathers, watching the roads in wait. Eric Delacroix didn’t really like that term – because, in his mind, he was far from a highwayman. Yes, he was often short on coin, sometimes short on temper, and quite possibly dangerous to know. But at least he did a damn fine vital service.

 

It hadn’t always been like this, of course. There’d been a time when he’d gladly dwelt within the gates of New Camelot, in a grand measure of comfort. His parents had been scholars and archivists, and he’d learned much at their feet – and, when setting out in the world, had the good fortune to gain the patronage of Lord Eldritch. A man with a taste for landscapes and statuary that invoked elements of the invisible, his tastes matched up quite well with Eric’s.

 

Then came the incident with the carriage. He hadn’t been looking – he’d been fetching pastries for Lord Eldritch when the carriage had come stampeding around the corner, its horse spooked beyond all reason. He hadn’t had time to dive out of the way before it knocked him against the cobblestones and trampled him. He’d gotten out lucky, for a certain extent of it – the beast had avoided his skull and spine, and none of his limbs had been shattered. But he’s still spent several days in a feverish daze, and weeks after that recovering.

 

During that state of fever, Eric had seen things – dark caverns, restless phantoms, and cloaked figures stalking the halls of the hospital. Even after he had recovered, the figures still passed him by. He didn’t wish to bring it to anyone’s attention – he was afraid that such visions might see him committed to an asylum. He did his best to ignore them, just tuning them out as the crowds moving through a city. But in time, he came to realize what he was seeing – the restless dead, moving through life unseen and unheard, pretending they might still be alive.

 

This, if anything, seemed worse than madness. With Arthur’s views towards magic, New Camelot showed a somewhat relaxed view towards the arts of sorcery, but there were some practices that would always be viewed with a dark eye. Necromancy, the invocation of spirits for the purpose of gaining knowledge, was one of them, falling just above infernalism on the list of blasphemies. He knew in his heart that this was different – he did not bid the dead to come to him, they merely came and spoke of their own will. And they spoke of loneliness, of need, of a wish to be in the light of God. What evil was there in aiding them?

 

Their wishes took Eric out into the night, often forcing him to face down those who had placed these souls in such a limited state. In time, word of the Cemetery Man began to spread, the man in the skull-faced mask who spoke in a voice like the grave. But there was only so long Eric could maintain the cover with Lord Eldritch – it was hard to deliver good art during the day when one spent all their nights dealing with the dead and the depraved. Lord Eldritch had been surprisingly sympathetic, however – not only was he fascinated by Eric’s talent, he passed along tomes on arcane theory that allowed him to get a better grasp on it. In addition to speaking to the dead, he was able to manifest their strange gifts as his own.

 

But that, in the end, had been his undoing. Rumors of some of the less savory grimoires in Eldritch’s possession had spread back to the local Inquisition. Eric had come home from a night’s patrol to find the house lousy with witch hunters – and, knowing that the tomes of necromancy would be found under his bed, he turned on his heels and ran to the city gates.

 

The sound of hoofbeats sprung him from his reverie – frantic, like coursers charging at tourney.  He sprung from his hiding place to the road, just in time to see two riders in messenger’s garb charging past at top speed. In the distance, not too far behind, rang up more hoofbeats, these ones like hammers on an anvil. Eric stepped out into the road just as the riders came charging up the road, forcing his will into the earth as he passed.

 

These riders hadn’t been mortal in some time, and mortal weapons would do little to them or their steeds. But the Cemetery Man’s weapons were far from mortal. Spectral hands reached up from the leaf-strewn floor, grasping at the legs of the horses with the strength of steel cables. Instantly, the steeds seized up, letting up whinnies like the gates of Hell creaking open. The riders may have been phantoms, but inertia still had some play on them – as their steeds came to a sudden halt, they went flying into the road, their rusted armor and rotted leathers clanking to a rest on the ground.

 

“Gentlemen,†he said, “I think it’s time you retired.â€

 

The lead rider looked up into Eric’s face – he had somehow made the effort to maintain enough flesh for a ratty beard to cling to his face, but he hadn’t exactly made any effort on the rest. His eyes were long gone, replaced by barrow lights. “This is our road,†he said with a dry croak. “These are our hunts. You shall not challenge us.â€

 

“They may have been, once upon a time,†he said, “when you still held the barony. But then there was that unfortunate business… the trials… the public hangings… still, sometimes it’s good to see such devotion in this day and age.†He locked eyes with the dreadful lights in the dead man’s skull. “But I think it’s time you gave it a rest.â€

 

They charged forward as one on that beat. Their swords rained down on Eric, but they were only mortal steel. The scythe that popped into his hands was made of much more fundamental stuff. The staff alone was enough to repel their blows, and  as they recovered, the blade was sharp and swift enough to take off one’s head. What remaining ectoplasm kept the body moving swiftly curdled up as just bones hit the ground. The other two closed with him, but that gave him enough time to get up in the second-in-command’s face. The scythe dropped from his hands before vanishing into nothing, and he grabbed the revenant’s chin – just as phantom fire leapt from his palm, coursing through the corpse’s head. Soon, its muscles went slack, and the body fell to the ground.

 

The momentary victory was cut short by a cold pain in his side. The leader had taken the opportunity to draw steel and drive it through the opening of his coat. “A good challenge,†he said as he leaned in to Eric. “I’ll enjoy feeding on you.â€

 

“And I’m certain I’d be a hearty meal,†said Eric. “I’m just not keen to find that out today.†He stomped his foot, and the same phantoms as before leapt up from the ground, dragging the leader down to meet them. This band of spectral hunters had left quite a trail of the dead, and those dead had good memories and greater hungers. The dead baron struggled against his confines as Eric manifested the scythe once more before plunging it into his chest.

 

He could feel the dead slowly flowing out of the area – their killers and desecrators had been put to rest, and now, so could they slumber. The wound on his side was bad, but he had the best surgery he could. Ectoplasm flowed from his fingers into the wound, slowly knitting it up. With all the dirty business taken care of, he thought of practicalities – finding an inn for the night, maybe getting a bath, and definitely trying to get a new shirt. With that, he started to explore the corpses of the riders, checking to see what loot they may have gathered from their victims.

 

He might not be a highwayman. But living in the forest still required some coin.

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Tower of the Seven

January 6, Anno Domini 2014


The Ochre Paladin was restless tonight.  


Youngest of an order that stretched back centuries- gods, she had only been an adult for a few months.  She still didn’t know fully what the Lord Hughes had seen in her, to be honest- her father was a warrior of the islands she came from, yes, but she had inherited none of that strength.  Not like her sister, who had recently awakened an ability to control the fire that flowed beneath their home.  


She missed Kalani.  She missed Father, and she missed Mother.  At least the library of the tower was… extensive, to say the least, giving her a lot to read up on.  That was what she was doing tonight, in fact- studying building techniques, ways to use the Orange Ring more effectively, so that her barriers might be more solid, her constructions sturdy against any attack.  How else, after all, might she protect those who could not protect themselves?


At least the other knights of the Order were helpful to her.  The last Ochre Paladin had been a member for… a very long time, and she had almost thought that there might be resentment… but no.  All the others had been nothing but helpful.  


Haukea turned a page, thinking.  â€œSo, if I place a buttress there… hm.  Well, this should be enough for a secondary wall around the expanded New Camelot, if the people need it.  It’s growing fairly quickly, after all…â€


She paused, looking at the position of the moon.  It was that late already?


The day had been… a stressful one, she supposed.  The news from the capital, about the forces at work.  She’d been watchful for the entire day, but…


Well…


Something was wrong.  Terribly wrong, and she knew it in her heart.  The rumors that, she assumed, were spread by the forces warned about.  â€œThis is not the way this world should be!â€


Ridiculous claims, on the face of it, but.  There was that word again, nagging at Haukea.  Her brain knew that there was no way the claims could be real, but her heart kept whispering at her, saying that something was wrong with the world.  

She shook her head.  â€œI’m being silly.  In the end, it doesn’t matter if this is the way things should be or not.  What matters is that there are people who will need protecting.  And that is something I’ll do for as long as I’m a member of the Order.â€

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Red Moon

Behind the veil

1.52 AM, Lantern Hill

The Lady of the Red Moon had come from the bloody Moon of Mars, cast there by a human sorcerer after she refused to yield up the secret of her immortality and cursing her to eternal death. Mentor, the man of Adam's House, had broken the curse over her and allowed her free passage to Earth's sphere, a gift she repayed by watching over those who dwelt there and protecting them from evils they could not see.

On Lantern Hill, that cluster of old stone that once housed the first towers and keep of New Camelot, the stronghold built to ensure that even when threatened by invaders from the sea the light of civilization would not fade, a woman in long red robes was watching something. It had not seen her yet, but she knew to give it time. All around her was the battered rock of centuries, houses piled upon houses, a few roosting birds and an archer on sentry duty watching the rooftops below with especial care. The strange costumed caperers who had made the city such a legend were often hard to distinguish from each other in the deep gloom they so loved, and their adventures sometimes had to be detoured with a few well-placed warning shots.

The Lady of the Red Moon avoided this attention by the simple act of passing her physical form into the veil that shrouded the physical and ethereal worlds. Her soul was already half-unbound into the Lunar Sphere, which other mystics named the Astral Plane, and this let her pass through walls, escape the sight of earthly eyes...and see what lay beyond. This came at a price 'It has been many an age since I felt that,' she thought sadly, noticing the watchman shiver and pull his collar closer to his coarse neck as he peered into the night 'would that I could lend him my cloak', before her eyes turned back to the beast crouching above them.

In form it resembled an aurochs, its color was a deep blue save for the white of its horns and the brown of its eyes. The Lady knew it was not born from the minds of the city-dwellers, whose hearts knew little evil or desire to destroy, which left only Them, the ones who crept in Wharton forest, hating human light and ever seeking to extinguish it. The knights had already reported that many monsters lived on the new world, which was perhaps not surprising, seeing as this land had known no knights before the coming of Arthur's World Kingdom to its shore.

Her musings were cut short as the bull rose, snorting and shaking its beared head. Its eyes were fixed on her, she realized with an icy stroke of horror, and it was all she could do, once again, not to turn and flee. Instead she got smoothly to her bare feet, shaking the sleeves from her withered arms with their hideous hands ending in talons. With a rumble like thunder smiting the earth, the hazy monster began to step nearer, its head lowered so as to bring the great horns to bear, and each hoof striking air like hammers pounding iron.

'My one chance' thought the deathless woman 'is to catch the neck.' This was so. The monsters of the Lunar Sphere had powerful cores, and heads like seven-fold helms, but the neck that linked them was weak thanks to their unthinking nature, and a good strike there could decide the entire battle with a single blow. Even as she began making ready though, it struck.

Charging in an unstoppable blue mass, the bull swept past her at a hair's breadth, its target only just managing to dodge, crying out in anger as she lashed out, missing the bulging throat by inches with her claws. The beast passed through the stone roof a few feet behind the sentry, a bellow of rage echoing through the Astral veil before it burst back through, eyes blazing with mindless wrath!

Centering herself, She of the Red Moon faced down the impending horror, her hood cast back and revealing the pallid face of a corpse. Eyes black as night narrowed against the glare and twisting Lunar mist, against the tangle of mystery that latticed her vision of the world beyond. Everything seemed to slow...and then 'There, the opening!' letting loose a shout of triumph from lungs that had long ceased to breathe, she dove forward and swung downwards, arcing at the last possible moment, feeling the horn tear through her side like a red-hot lance...before her claws slid home and turned the beast below her to howling mist. Collapsing to the roof with inhuman grace, the lady of the Red Moon nursed her wound and smiled in relief.
 
"I...I am victorious. Another menace slain, and peace restored. Eldritch's faith in me is vindicated for another night." Sighing deeply, the Lady released her grasp on the Lunar Sphere, appearing in the physical world yet again. Just as the sentry turned. Starting at the sight of her, he hastily raised his bow and nocked an arrow, shouting to her "Hi! Get ye down from here-! Oh," he lowered the weapon as he saw that she was hurt, and stepped forward in wary compassion "Doth thou need assistance, lady?"

Shaking her head, the Lady of the Red Moon smiled and stepped off the roof, falling lightly to the street below with hardly a whisper in a swirl of tattered crimson cloth. Gathering it around herself, she called up "I salute thine vigilance, watchman! The people sleep deeper with such guards as thee. I bid thee good night, and sharp eyes."

Bowing, she stepped away into the shadows and soon disappeared.

Snorting, the sentry shouldered his bow, turning his gaze back to the rooftops "Aye, that they do. It's not many as see what I can!"

Settling back into his duty, he kept close watch. Never once dreaming of the secrets just beyond the veil.
 

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Cannonade

 

Stone and Steel

 

There were some struggles that Joseph Macayle appreciated much more than others. This one fell towards the lesser end of the scale.

 

“Now see here, Macayle,†said Lord Dunsirn, his rings rapping on the wooden table of the guildhall, “we simply cannot agree to these rates! I understand that times are hard, but they’re hard for all of us equally!â€

 

Joseph tried to keep his teeth from biting through his lips. He ignored the fact that Lord Dunsirn had ignored the whole “Journeyman†part of his title as a sign of good faith – or perhaps as a sign of good credit. “The project you’ve asked of us,†he said, “is going to rival the Great Hall of the League of Camelot for height. And we don’t have the benefits of the Learned Craftsmason to sing the thing out of base stone. Those rates are calculated to include a separate chest for possible medical expenses that might result for the effort.â€

 

Dunsirn shifted in his seat. “I’ve always appreciated the work of the Guild of Masons,†he said, “as has most of this city. But sometimes I wonder if your group coasts on that esteem. These times are to be celebrated, yes, but it seems that fortunes run thinner with each day. Perhaps the guild should recognize that it exists at the will of those with the coin.â€

 

And so much coin. Joseph could easily have pointed out that Dunsirn’s family had enough coin over to ransom the city twice, and were the last people to be talking about a general lack of prosperity. But fortunately, he didn’t have to clear that particular hurdle, as the charm in his pocket started to vibrate. “It’s clear we’re not going anywhere today,†he said. “We’ll meet tomorrow at noon to discuss this again. Understood?â€

 

Dunsirn nodded, and left the guildhall with the deliberate speed of a man who didn’t want to be there anyway. Joe had volunteered for the duty of advocate to help out his father as he directed the guild – he just hadn’t realized how often it would bring him into the path of asses. But now he had another problem to deal with.

 

He rushed up to his quarters, finding the small trunk he kept under his bed. When his talents had first made themselves clear – the day he’d caught and perfectly balanced a large chunk of limestone before it could harm anyone – his father had revealed the secret of their line. Their grandfather had been a knight-errant of New Camelot, blessed with armor crafted by Sir Kay himself to help drive back an army. He had died on the field, but the enchantment had passed into his blood – and into the blood of his heirs. And while the enemy forces were rapacious, some of that armor had made its way back to the kingdom.

 

He lifted the helm out of his trunk and slipped it onto his head. The glamour took hold, helping to cover what little of his face showed. He was ready.

 

---

 

Polybolos raced across the roofs of the city, taking them three at a time. His costume was simple – save for the helm, there were the thick leather jerkin, breeches, and boots one would expect of a blacksmith. They didn’t provide much protection in the face of danger, but didn’t need to – his skin was all the steel he needed. They were simply his little token, an homage to those who weren’t raised up to high castles.

 

He followed him charm to the source of distress – the thickets of South Wall, one of his favored neighborhoods. And now, it was given over to a small riot. The symbol of a single eye crying bloody tears told him who was responsible. The Sons of Odin were one of those groups that couldn’t get over the past. Even after the fall of the Iron Thrones decades before, there will still those who clung to the myths of an endless empire, the might of pagan gods, and the power and purity of the white race. With a quick glimpse over, Polybolos guessed that few of the crowd had gotten anywhere near Saxony at any point in their lineage. But perhaps it was the thought that counted.

 

“The throne is false!†cried out the person leading the crowd, wearing armor in Saxon style that looked like it had been assembled from old tin. He had a highly-stylized eyepatch on, but Polybolos presumed there was a hale and hearty eye under it – most Sons just wore them in honor of their divine patriarch. “All thrones are false! There is only the reign of Odin, from his seat in Asgard, and his chosen champion, the Fuhrer!â€

 

A pagan god and a dead man on a broken throne. Sounded like a good match. The horde looked like the usual rabble, people who deeply strained the idea of the superiority of Saxon blood and had a strong penchant for hand axes. They were trying very hard to use those axes on the city guards, who were drawing them back with their shields. It looked like it’d be fun for a tussle, but nothing serious.

 

At least, until the leader with the eyepatch raised his hands and barked out something with a guttural tongue. The skies darkened instantly, and lashes of lightning rained down upon the earth. Ah. There were some amongst the Iron Thrones who practiced sorcery, allegedly handed down by their patrons. That would make it interesting.

 

Polybolos marked with arrival with all the force of a catapult, landing right in the middle of the horde’s left flank. Men and women went flying as his feet touched ground, sending up a small earthquake through the street. Attention swiftly turned his way, and the melee was on. They swarmed him at all sides, descending with fists and axe blades alike – but the fists did nothing, and the axe blades often came back cracked and broken. Polybolos’s leathers were getting torn up, but they usually did. He had quite a few sets for this purpose.

 

As the crowd started to thin, the chill started to build up. The clouds above were now dropping snow at a precipitous rate – and with it, hailstones the size of loaves of bread. One came down inches from Polybolos’s head, and another plowed through the watchhouse down the corner. This fight was spilling out beyond the square – if it went on much longer, all of South Wall might be leveled.

 

“I see you!†cried the sorcerer. “I see you, false champion!â€

 

“Surprised you can see much,†Polybolos said. “That must be the most powerful magic of all.†He brought his hands together with a thunderclap – the wave dispelled much of the treacherous wind the sorcerer had summoned, and helped to deflect some of the hail, but kept the caster rooted to the ground.

 

“I see all the branches of Yggdrasil,†cried the sorcerer. The wind was rising again, but still Polybolos managed to push forward, with a desire to put this nonsense to rest. “I see the fall of each flake on Jotunheim! I see the world in its total, false champion!â€

 

Polybolos grabbed the sorcerer by the yoke of his shirt and drove his fist into the man’s face. With improper force, it would’ve taken the man’s head off, but he was always good about proper force. The blow merely made the man stagger, and snapped the cord on his eyepatch. The sorcerer looked Polybolos right in the eyes – and he’d been wrong about the good eye. One was normal, but the one under the patch had no iris or pupil, merely a scratched, multicolored film over a white orb.

 

“I see this world… and it is not as it should be.â€

 

More nonsense. Another blow was enough to knock him to the ground. He placed a call to the League of Liberty – his compatriots would be more likely to contain the sorcery than he would. As he worked to clean up South Wall and make sure the chaos didn’t start all over, though, the words kept turning over in his head. Like they actually meant something.

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A Privateer’s Life For Me?
Backyard, Cline Residence, New Camelot City
January 6, Anno Domini 2014
(Thoughtspeed January 2014 Vignette)

William Cline was, as was becoming rather common, bored.

Not just bored with this particular day, though with his dad out doing lame adult stuff, it was boring around the house. But bored with his life in general. His parents seemed to actually like the “passion plays†that they put on, for all that William found them either insincere, or too sarcastic. He never said so to his parents, of course. Partially because he knew this was their “assigned penance†from the League. Some of the group of do-gooders seemed decent folks, but some were a bit self-righteous. While they’d accepted the change of heart his parents had had after the Prince of Hell had tried to destroy New Camelot (and failed), a few had insisted it wasn’t enough. Thus, his parents put on “passion plays†where they spoke of past exploits of criminals and ne’er-do-wells.

Will wanted more. Oh, sure, his parents occasionally helped the League of Camelot, but it just didn’t feel right to William.

He wanted to help people, no mistake, but the League was always battling the forces of Hell, or the insane folks like Lord Stratos or whatnot. But what of the guilds of thieves, robbers, and pirates that plagued not just New Camelot, but the outlying farms and settlements, the roads, and even the seas around them? There were heroes, either attached to the League or independent, who did so. But not many. Other independent groups had mixed success; he’d heard of the group led by a young knife-flinging man, an eclectic mix who fought the highwaymen, fey, and dark things that haunted the roads, settlement, and city.

Will was determined to be like the lovable rogue from the days of Arthur I, Will Scarlett. The man had been one of Sir Loxley’s most trusted companions and battle-brothers in his fight to keep the forests of Holy Britain safe. Scarlett had had to settle for plain steel in his hands. William Cline had no such limitation.

He smirked, and in a blur, there were a set of simple wooden posts set up in the fenced-in backyard, each bearing some sort of hay-stuffed target with (comically bad) drawn faces at the top. He had his evil fae...now for his weapons.

With a quick flash of green light, William bore twin longknives. A fierce grin on his face, he was a blur as he struck at the first target, a barrage of slashes sending hay flying. He might not have Will Scarlett’s skills yet, but he was getting closer, and the legendary knife-slinger never had Will’s speed!

Then suddenly he held a classical rapier, and blows were struck upon more of the foul creatures of Faerie! Like the famed Arbalesters of the French region of the Empire, his sword was a gentleman’s weapon. The knives might be faster, but this, oh, this had style! And if there was one lesson his father had taught him that William had taken to heart, it was that style was key!

He finally stopped his amateur “training sessionâ€, taking a few deep breaths to slow his heart rate down just a bit. He grinned, satisfied with how utterly destroyed the “evil Fae soldiers†were. He gave a salute with the blade to his worthy foes, before letting the collected energy disappear into the wind.

Now he was left pondering two things.
First, how could he make a living being a ‘hero of the people� Perhaps he could approach someone with the Crown about a modified Privateer’s License? He’d heard of people using the more traditional version to drive down piracy closer to Old Camelot. Maybe something like that could be applied more broadly…
Second, and more importantly, what would he wear? How would he present himself? What name would he take? He liked the thought of mostly black, but with green. His powers showed themselves as green, why not work with it? A hat, yes, a hat would be good. It would need a strap, so as to not fly off, but that was a small sacrifice. As for a name...his powers were equally those of mind as well as of body. He was fast, and he could do things...at the speed of thought. Speed of thought. Thoughtspeed! Yes, that sounded like a heroic name, one to inspire confidence in citizens, and induce swooning in pretty girls. Can’t forget inducing the swooning.

So William Cline whiled away the time dreaming of his life as a Heroic Privateer, not knowing the battle soon to be raging on the streets with his father in the center. But, such was life in New Camelot City...

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Geckoman

 

They'd thought they'd be safe to the north. They'd stolen the couple's very handsome dowry, and fled northwards on horseback. The nine armoured riders, notorious criminals of the Corps d'Prowess, were strong, fast and determined, having smashed into the father-in-law-to-be's stately countryside abode and snatched up the chests, fleeing with only a token attempt to stop the unstoppable.

 

“Well, look at those fellows go,†murmured a voice observing them from some distance away in the clouds. Something about their identical armour, its strange smooth metal, seemed to make the horses able to run full tilt and barely notice the massive weight that should be on their back. The figure spun the wooden wheel in front of him and casually tossed his brass telescope over his shoulder. “I bet mine is faster!â€

 

The head of the formation glanced behind him, smug in the knowledge they'd soon be home, dry, and rich from another successful job... then glanced back again. “We're under attack!†he roared, going for his weapons. As one, the two lines of four cavalry spun and pivoted, forming a two layered defensive line.

 

The great leather-and-linen balloon was different hues and shades of green, sewn and stitched into one solid, overlapping mass. Great brass clamps held fast to it at equidistant points like barnacles, each little golden lump fastened to a thick, thick rope. Beneath this was a small wooden vessel, almost like a sailing ship, with an exposed deck, and cannons flickering with the light of the many strange bottles set into the sides of the ship, strange fires and flickers burning in each glass vessel.

 

At the helm, standing resplendent and alone on the ship, was a lanky figure in a chartreuse knee-length coat. A pale yellow shirt sat beneath it, and his boots were a bright lemon hue the brigands had never seen in nature. This apparition stood, flying his miraculous sailboat, two orange lenses tucked into the brim of his wide-brimmed hat.

 

“Corps d'Power!†shouted the man, in a voice younger than they'd expected. “Surrender your stolen wares and this shall not come to violence! So say I in the name of The Gecko!â€

 

The lieutenant of the Corps brought her horse forward alongside her leader. “We outnumber you, even with your floating ship,†she sneered from under the dark visor of her helm. “You have no crewmen. What can you hope to possibly achieve?â€

 

Even from the distance away he was, the man's grin was visible as the ship began to lower and hasten, a series of ornate carvings of lizards visible on the barrels of the many cannons. The Gecko reached to his right and pulled on several chains, their links tied together with rope so that he might pull them all simultaneously.

 

Flames barked from his cannon mounts, landing seemingly at random, breaking up the formation of Corps soldiery. And still the mighty ship swooped downwards like a great unwieldy owl. Several of the brigands pulled out high-powered crossbows, firing multiple bolts of solid, sharp steel at the hull of the ship and at the balloon supporting it, but they failed to do sufficient damage to even slow the craft. It was nearly upon them now, the horse bucking and some of the Corps on foot, close enough to read in gold letters on the side of the ship: 'Salamander'. It whooshed over them, parallel to the ground, still spitting flame as its arc seemed to go up once more, up and away from the confrontation.

 

“My Sally is a beautiful girl, is she not?†spat a voice from behind the lieutenant. She whirled in the saddle, to have her sword immediately flicked from her hand by a deft rapier swish. The Gecko was balanced on the ass of her horse! What affront was this? Unrelenting, she punched forward, but the infuriating buccaneer forward flipped off the horse, somehow hooking a rope into the chest holding the dowry as he went.

 

Smoke and horses whirled about the two, and the lieutenant knew there was no guarantee they'd close formation in time to stop him. “So, little man. You've roped the chest, now what? You run off with it?â€

 

The soot-stained vagabond looked up at her on her great steed. “Well...†He turned and suddenly threw the other end of the rope with such speed and force it wrapped around one of his craft's support ropes. In a single leaping bound, he jumped and balanced on the rope as it became increasingly taut, increasingly raising off the ground. “Yes, that would be the plan, as it were.â€

 

In another fluid motion, he slid down the rope, spurs on his boots slicing at the harness holding the chest on the horse, in time to promptly dig his heels into the chest and float slowly up in the sky, his airship pulling man, chest and rope alike up towards the crowds. With a final bow and wave, the green-clad man flourished his hat and vanishing into the clouds and smoke surrounding the chaos he'd made, in such a short space a time, of their mercenary band.

 

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Temperance

 

Strange Women Lying in Ponds

 

Great Nimue:

 

My studies continue apace. This week alone, I have managed to weave fog from midair, turn the water in a goblet to ice in the blink of an eye (shame about the goblet), and weave sculptures out of water that last for close to a minute if I concentrate hard enough. I am still working on the rest, but as before, my talents seem to lie in ice. I wonder why that is.

 

As for the realms invisible, my understanding increases with each day. I have yet to cross over to the land of any of the Watchtowers, nor can I turn my solid flesh to running water. But I see more of the elementals, fairies, and other creatures that walk behind the gauzy curtain of our world. Seeing them is not new, of course – I have seen them since I was swaddling – but now I see them and I understand them. I have run into sylphs and known, on sight, whether they are of the east wind or the north wind. I have seen earth elementals and, without hearing a word, know whether they are of clay, silt, or dirt.

 

And, of course, I have had my share of encounters with them in the corpus. When I heard the alarm bells ringing at twilight last Thursday, and saw the patterns of smoke curling up from Candlewatch Hill, I had this feeling in my bones that whatever inferno lay there was not natural. So I made my way to the hill, clad in my disguise of cloak and ice (as I’ve assumed many times for just these affairs), to find one of the grand inns ablaze. And as I’d suspected, running through the embers was a salamander! What a majestic and terrible sight, like a dragon rendered out of flame itself, scales of gold and eyes of crimson. To all the others, it was invisible, even as the fire moved like fires usually do not – perhaps they assumed it was witchfire, or some curse along those lines. In any case, the salamander saw me, and knew it was of a kin. It charged forward, sending the fire running through the entire neighborhood!

 

My usual tactics were not of much use – I may be good at daggers of ice, but there is only so much that can be asked of ice when you hurl it into a gigantic blaze. And the waters of the neighborhood were few – some barrels, a distant well, and the occasional run-off of chamber pots. But the salamander needed to be contained – attempts to talk reason to it ended poorly, and I suspect it may have been a juvenile. I finally managed to find a high place, escaping the surging flames, and take the time to concentrate. As I did, I could feel all the water in the neighborhood rising up to meet my will. I opened my eyes for just a second, to see a gigantic waterspout forming in the sky. With a gesture, I brought it down, and the salamander was soon nothing but steam. Knowing the ways of elementals, I know that he should reform in some time. Hopefully, this time, he can be of a more even temper.

 

I probably should have mentioned the waterspout in my opening paragraph, but I don’t exactly consider it solid progress. My attempts to replicate it have ended in a sodden mess; I prefer to keep to things I can replicate regularly. Once again, I thank you for taking you under my wing. I must have seemed a strange child, blind to my heritage in the invisible. But you helped to open my eyes to so much. It is good to know that a child of two worlds has a chance to prosper under your tutelage, and I look forward to learning all that much more.

 

Your humble student,

 

Temperance

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Revenant

What sounds they make

If anything the appearance of Lucita made the woman scream more than when she was initially attacked. Of cause that could be because of the sword poking through the other vampires shoulder, only inches from the girl. With some gentle encouragement the girl fled from the alley probably to fetch the Watch , or worst, she didn't have much time.

Once a lifetime ago Lucita had had a normal life. She had been a defender of the innocent to the court, saving them with words instead of steel. She was betroved and maybe there could have had children....

That had all changed when the Master arrived. One of the eldest vampires he had serviced countless attempts by the knights and inqusistion to end his existence. And for some reason he had become interested in Lucita.

"You see that glow on the horizon? That is the dawn little brother. You should not have been hunting so late."

With her age she now found the sun did her no harm, but to one as young as this he would die in the first light of day.

"Tell me where to find him and I will make your death swift."

He would have known about her and what she had done to his kin, her brothers and sisters in darkness. For when she woke into this unlife, fir reasons unknown even to her, her she did not change like the others. No red thirst drove her actions, no desire to inflicting harm and suffering on others. If did not take her long to realize this, nor for him either, and when she knew she was free she took up the sword and killed all his children. But for the first time, and far from the last he got away.

With the smell of his burning flesh he finally told Lucita what she needed to know and she was true to her word.

In a simple hooded woollen robes she looked like any normal monk about there business, and few knew her kind could travel in the daylight. In the darkness of the hood her solid black eyes, a mark of her difference from everyone, were unseen. She made her way quickly for the Elder vampire she hunted had already heard of before presence and was attempting to flee to other lands aboard the Demeter. Secure in the knowledge that she was distracted by one of his children he would probably be sleeping.

When he awoke Lucita would be waiting for him, and finally all this hunting would come to an end...

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